Teachers can dramatically improve pupils' behaviour by expanding the curriculum and providing extra support for the most unruly, according to two new studies published today by Ofsted. But teachers in some schools feel overwhelmed by the "deep-rooted weaknesses" that need to be overcome and do not get enough support from their headteachers, inspectors found.
The first report, Improving Behaviour, witnessed rapid improvements in discipline after teachers followed simple steps to improve the whole school. Offering more subjects and small rewards were enough to cut low-level disruption among some; with others, a more methodical approach uncovered serious problems requiring expert help.
The second report - on learning support units - tells of the impact they have made for children at risk of exclusion.
Both reports come a year after the Steer committee recommended a raft of measures to improve pupils' behaviour. Chaired by Sir Alan Steer, a headteacher in Redbridge, north-east London, the committee called for laws giving teachers the right to discipline and restrain pupils using reasonable force. This is to be enshrined in the Education and Inspections Bill before Parliament.
According to Ofsted, however, "softer" recommendations made by the Steer committee, including improvements to the curriculum, inspectors evaluating pupil behaviour and greater use of learning support units, can produce significant results.
Ofsted's first report, Improving Behaviour, is based on progress made by schools found to have unsatisfactory behaviour during routine inspections.
All had follow-up visits, with almost all making quick progress because of their "gritty determination to succeed".
"Schools can reduce low-level disruptive behaviour in a reasonably short time using simple strategies, if everyone uses them," the report said. "The most successful schools did not deal with behaviour in isolation but tackled it as part of a wider school improvement strategy. They set out to motivate students and raise achievement by improving teaching, making learning more enjoyable and giving wider curriculum choices."
Clearly spelling out to pupils what kind of behaviour was acceptable and providing one-to-one support for vulnerable children were also identified as vital in overcoming the problem.
High staff turnover and reliance on supply teachers were the main barriers for some schools to tackle their behaviour problems. In others, senior managers had become absorbed in different issues, and staff felt overwhelmed by the weaknesses that needed changing, inspectors said.
Specifically, inspectors found that some headteachers were too consumed by developing bids for specialist status and "planning new buildings to be erected under the Private Finance Initiative" to focus on improving behaviour.
In some serious cases, local authorities provided schools with help from consultants with expertise in behaviour problems.
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:
"We have always been concerned that the rigidity of the curriculum prevents teachers using their professional judgment to engage pupils.
"Teachers cannot always respond to what interests the child and incorporate that into their subjects." Mr Sinnott said it was vital that parents back schools.
Of the schools featured in the report, 35 were in special measures for a range of problems, 13 had serious weaknesses, and 23 had unsatisfactory behaviour identified as their only weakness.
Sir Alan said Ofsted's findings had a lot in common with those of his own committee.
He said: "The biggest thing we need to do is not just talk about behaviour.
Children don't come to school to behave, they come to learn. If we get the teaching right the behaviour tends to follow.
"There might be a hardcore with behavioural difficulties but stimulating children is the best way to deal with low-level disruption, which is what teachers most often complain of."
He welcomed the monitoring of schools suffering with behaviour problems and said schools needing support should receive it.
Sir Alan also called for better training for new and head teachers in behaviour management techniques. The second Ofsted report on the use of learning support units in schools says that disaffected pupils can be motivated and integrated back into mainstream classes more quickly.
The units offer specialist help to children who are vulnerable and at risk of being excluded.
Sir Alan's committee had recommended that all schools should include the units or have access to them to help tackle bad behaviour and truancy problems.
Ofsted in its report said it found the units successful at balancing teaching with quality care.
Teaching in ten out of 12 units visited between autumn 2005 and summer 2006 was satisfactory or better and overall effectiveness was good in nine of the schools.
The report said: "The academic curriculum was given the same emphasis as the work done with pupils on their social, emotional and behavioural skills, and on improving their ability to learn.
"As a result, pupils' achievement, standards, personal development and well-being are good."
There are at least 1,500 learning support units in England, including 120 in primary schools. The Department for Education and Skills expects all secondary schools to have access to a unit by September 2007.
A spokesman said: "Learning support units are an integral part of keeping pupils in school so it is encouraging that the evaluation found disaffected pupils being re-engaged in education. We are addressing the findings that reintegration into mainstream classes could be more effective." All of the units visited in secondary schools generally followed the normal school curriculum up to key stage 3, but offered alternatives in key stage 4, including work placements, to keep pupils motivated.
Sir Alan said it was encouraging that the good work done in the units was being recognised. "The teachers who work in these units are very hard working and deserve huge accolades for what they do," he said. "It is important to be able to help children with different levels of need. Some may only need extra support for a relatively short time. The danger is if they become a sin bin for badly behaved pupils who then spend too much time there."
Learning support units' success in the eyes of inspectors is in contrast to pupil referral units, which are for pupils with behavioural issues too serious for mainstream schools to cope with. These units have come in for criticism for their standards of education and care.
Earlier this year, Ofsted criticised the use of referral units for teaching pupils with special educational needs. The units achieved worse results than either mainstream or special schools.
A DfES spokesman said the national strategies for behaviour and attendance will continue to give schools and local authorities support and guidance to cut bad behaviour.
education bill,18 The reports 'Improving Behaviour' and 'Evaluation of the impact of learning support units' can both be downloaded from Ofsted's website, on www.ofsted.gov.uk